Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Do small schools spend too much on administrators?

Yes, indeed, according to a report from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni.  The R1s reportedly spend only 17 cents on administrators for every dollar spent on instructional staff, while the little guys spend 64 cents for every buck devoted to faculty and other instructional folks.

This data point goes hand in hand with two of my pet peeves:  The amount of money wasted on executive search firms by higher ed institutions coupled with the incredible amount of faculty and staff energy wasted on conducting searches,  and the salaries being paid to CEOs in our industry.

Consider the typical search process for, let's say, a dean or veep.  First, a head hunter must be engaged at a not-insignificant fee.  Meanwhile, a search committee is constituted.  This can run to 10 or 12 busy people, who now will spend a significant chunk of their time reviewing the CVs provided by the search firm, meeting about them, conducting the "airport" interviews, meeting about them, interviewing the finalists, meeting about them....  As for the poor candidate, s/he must write a letter aimed at convincing the search committee that their institution has been the candidate's dream career move since s/he was an undergraduate.  Then s/he must prep for the airport interview, usually by reading a thick packet of materials fed-exed by the head hunter.  And, if s/he makes it into the final four, there is the fun of two days of being quizzed by every Tom, Dick and Harry at the institution. And, if s/he isn't the winner, well, then, it's time to do it all over again with some other institution. I wouldn't be sounding so critical if I thought we got the best people out of this grueling process.  Too often we do not.  (You know I'm right.)

I won't even get into the issue of CEO salaries this morning, except to say that the "cult of the CEO", so prevalent in the for-profit world, has come to increasingly control thinking in higher ed as well.  I wouldn't be sounding so critical here, either, if I thought the adulation was deserved.  But, again, too often our expectations are disappointed and our hopes dashed.  I'll leave this topic with just one word: Spanier.

Solutions?  Council President Michael Poliakoff suggests that the findings raise questions about the long-range fiscal health of the small-college sector of our industry.  (Surprise, surprise.) He adds, they point up the need for schools to explore shared admin services and purchasing consortia, among other solutions.  In other words, sub-out the administrative stuff and focus on the core business.  The study can be accessed here.

I would add that closing the gap between faculty and staff; cultivating a culture of faculty involvement in recruitment, retention and fund raising; rotating faculty through administrative roles so that they understand the business they are in; promoting from within... all these steps will help create a leaner, meaner, and tighter-knit organization in these times of Fifth Wave financial crises and existential challenges.

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